On Armistice Day, let us honour the fallen by recommitting to protecting our veterans
Lt Col (Ret) Dr Rhys Thomas, Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
Today marks 101 years since the allied forces and Germany signed an armistice treaty, to end one of the bloodiest periods of conflict in modern history.
Welsh soldiers fought and died then, as they have done in many conflicts since. It is right that we reflect on their sacrifice, and on our losses.
Having served multiple tours of Afghanistan as a Doctor for the Airborne Brigade, I saw with my own eyes the horror and suffering that service personnel faced.
It is difficult to put the extent of those horrors on the battlefield into words, but for those who return home, our battles rage on.
Many returning soldiers are disproportionately affected by homelessness and mental health problems, among other issues.
Plaid Cymru has uncovered statistics that showed that across the United Kingdom 66,000 veterans are either homeless, in the justice system, or experiencing mental health conditions.
As a veteran, as a medic, and as a public servant, I view this to be an unacceptable failure of government: those who have sacrificed the most, have been supported the least. We must do more.
Like so many others, ex-personnel are being let down by a Tory government which just doesn’t understand our communities. And the truth is – they don’t care either.
The problem isn’t just in Westminster. The Labour government in Cardiff Bay has also failed to invest in the services that are most vital to our veterans.
Today, as we remember those we have lost, those who fight, and those who come home from military service, we honour them and their memory.
However, the stories we share, the brave actions we remember, and the promises made to us must be met with concrete action.
Veterans and their needs, and the political action required to meet them, must be considered by focussing on a few key areas. With this in mind, the health of our veterans is an absolute priority.
In the face of continued attacks to our National Health Service, veterans and their access to essential healthcare must be protected.
Plaid Cymru are absolutely committed to protecting and improving our NHS: we will recruit and train an additional 1,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses, to ensure that those who need help can get it.
And as a party, we will ensure that veterans and their families receive the help they need, where and when they need it.
Astoundingly, residential veterans’ care, is currently unavailable in Wales, with many veterans living with PTSD and related conditions having to go out of their way to reach assessment centres for treatment.
Living with PTSD gives one a particular view of the world – and servicepeople who have returned home with PTSD know all too well that they are the lucky ones.
But I know too that having to travel for treatment can trigger panic attacks and distress. Plaid Cymru will endeavour to provide residential visits to veterans, and to prevent closures of essential local services.
Despite open declarations of support for improvements to mental health services, governments in both Cardiff and Westminster have failed to address the mental health crisis.
Poor mental health can affect anyone at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, but we know that veterans are disproportionately affected by suicide crisis.
That’s a tragedy in and of itself, but more so because it’s avoidable. That’s why Plaid Cymru would develop a 24/7 mental health crisis service to ensure access to vital care.
What’s more, former soldiers are affected, perhaps more than any other group, by homelessness, with over 6,000 homeless without a home.
Plaid Cymru will put pressure on the Westminster government to fulfil its duty to veterans and the homeless, further ensuring that legislation is developed and enacted to prevent these altogether preventable issues.
There has been a clear failure at all levels of government to help those of us who have served.
While some have given their lives to serve, we who have returned know how fortunate we are to be back in Wales with our friends and loved ones.
But our welfare as veterans simply hasn’t been accounted for anywhere near enough.
While veterans build a life for themselves after service, their needs must be met with transformative action and legislation. Empty words and promises are not enough.
In the face of adversity, veterans know that that the things we’ve seen are not weaknesses. We can find strength in what we’ve been through, and solidarity in our service.
This Armistice Day, we remember the fallen, and let us neither forget those who’ve come home.
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